Much like the Capitals, the weak spot for the Pittsburgh Penguins is in their defense. While there are good back men like Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang. The rest are a story of inconsistency and slower big men.
The Penguins count more on their offense than they do their defense. The back line is not anything too special. But they can move the puck and often jump up into the play. Letang, their young budding star and Mike Green wannabe, is their best puck mover and is okay on the defensive side. Gonchar is another good puck moving defensemen and set up man for the power play.
Outside those two players you have Hal Gill, veteran defenseman who has been in charge in the past of being responsible for Alex Ovechkin. But the Pens would better be served playing the much faster skaters of Brooks Orpik and Mark Eaton. Rob Scuderi has been a bit of a wild card on the back line, but he has put together a couple of good games against Washington's top line during the regular season series.
The Capitals have had success against this defensive squad this season. In their four game regular season series, the Caps have outscored the Penguins 18 to 12. Ovechkin accounted for four goals and two assists. In this series there shouldn't be any lack in scoring (of course I say that and game one will be a 1-0 win).
A disadvantage for the Penguins are bad turnovers. If the Capitals can up their play in the neutral zone to create odd man rushes. With the Caps aggressive offense, I doubt that will be the problem for them.
As far as head to head defensively, I will give the Pens a slight advantage with veteran's Gill and Gonchar. The Caps defense has to do a much better job against a team that has much more confidence on the offensive end than the Rangers. Any mistakes the Caps make on the defensive end will lead to goals.
As far as goaltending is concerned, Marc-Andre Fleury has a lot going for him. Besides having three names, he has turned up his play in net for the Penguins. The Penguins are at times defensively challenged and they rely heavily on Fleury to come up with the save. It is the Pens' secret weapon.
When Fleury is playing well, the Penguins are a tough team to win against. When he is struggling, so does the rest of the team.
M-AF is pretty solid down low. He reads the play extremely well and relys on his quick reflexes when things go awry. Fleury posted a .922 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA in his series against Philadelphia. Just a shade better than Simeon Varlamov.
For the Caps to win, they have to solve the Penguins' number one goaltender, which they have in the regular season series. The Caps abused Fleury on January 14th, scoring five goals against him to go on to win 6-3.
Fleury's counterpart, Varlamov, is a very similar player. With the exception that Varly might be much more calm, cool and collected. Fleury does sometimes show a temper when pushed too far. In terms of advantage between the two Fleury has a proven record of going to the Stanley Cup Final, Varly is a rookie. That is what gives Fleury the advantage in this series.
I will wrap up the series breakdown later today with a look at coaching, special teams and intangibles.